Russian Interior Ministry set to resume mental checks for police

'If we resume testing, we'll find that at least a third of all active police officers have some kind of mental pathology'

By By Anastasia Ustinova

MOSCOW — Russia plans to resume the Soviet-era practice of screening police officers for mental maladies amid a surge in violent crime by on- and off-duty cops.

The Interior Ministry will resume testing employees and job applicants for psychological disorders, after ending the practice amid budget cuts in the years following the Soviet Union's collapse in 1991, Interior Minister Rashid Nurgaliyev said in the official government newspaper, Rossiisskaya Gazeta.

"If we resume testing, we'll find that at least a third of all active police officers have some kind of mental pathology," said Mikhail Vinogradov, who ran the Soviet Interior Ministry's psychological testing unit from 1976 to 1987. Many unqualified applicants get hired through bribes or nepotism, Vinogradov, who now heads the Moscow Center for Legal and Psychological Assistance in Extreme Situations, said by phone on Monday.

The Kremlin has intensified efforts to force reform at the Interior Ministry since a police major killed three people during a shooting spree at a supermarket in southern Moscow last April, following a fight with his wife at his birthday party.

In October, a police officer in Siberia shot his girlfriend to death and then a taxi driver before committing suicide. Last month, a Moscow officer shot the driver of a snowplow after sideswiping his car, leaving the man to die from blood loss. And last week a Siberian cop beat to death a drunken journalist, saying he was "stressed out" over having to support the two families he has with different women.

"The ministry is working on a methodology to detect early symptoms of stress and to provide psychological support," Nurgaliyev said in the Rossiisskaya Gazeta interview, which was published Jan. 22.

Nurgaliev said the new measures are part of a wider reform designed to reduce corruption and shrink the ministry's 1.4 million staff by 20 percent. Job applicants may be forced to take lie detector tests, as well as psychological tests, and a "black list" will be compiled for those who fail to keep them from working in other areas of law enforcement.

The national police union, while agreeing with Vinogradov's assessment that a third of all cops have mental problems, said the problem can't be solved without tackling corruption.

"These psych tests don't mean a thing, anyone can pay a bribe to pass them," said Mikhail Pashkin, a spokesman for the union, by phone from Moscow.

26 January 2010 — Return to cover.